Financial Genius of Place

One of the underlying principles of Biomimicry is the Genius of Nature and that, as Janine Benyus is often quoted as saying, we need to quiet our intelligence and let Nature tell us what it knows.

When I first watched the Shaffi Mather TED Talk “A New Way to Fight Corruption”, I didn’t have a positive reaction to the idea.  Paying a service so that you don’t pay a bribe?  Can’t that level of corruption just be dealt with?  But I was reacting with my suburban New England background and understanding of “how things should work”.  When I thought longer about it, I realized that it was beating the corruption by empowering citizens with tools to fight.  Having to pay for this service was valuable because the research was done and they had a representative to help them stand; more empowering than charity.  I needed to listen to those that are suffering in that community come up with a brilliant and innovative solution to free themselves.

Similarly, the idea of Rotating Savings and Credit Associations (roscas) and other community based microlending (Biggart, 2001) is the community building something that works for it based on the social constructs that they have.  Formal lending institutions are constructs often based on colonialism and don’t fit the cultural norms of the communities they are supposed to be serving.  Female based microlending groups are a primary example of this because, even though they run households and businesses, they can’t participate in formal banking except through their husbands.

Sometimes the best way to help a designated “underserved” community is to listen when they describe the solutions they already have created and amplify them.


Biggart, Nicole Woolsey, “Banking on Each Other: The Situational Logic of Rotating Savings and Credit Associations”, Advances in Qualitative Organization Research, volume 3 pages 129-153, 2001.


A Living Wage?

For my Political Economy class this semester, we need to write 2-3 paragraphs each week based on our readings.  This is the first of 8.

“Poverty is about more than not having enough money.  It’s about not having hope” – Jennifer Garner

I’ve been watching A Path Appears, a documentary by Nick Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn and this week’s episode was about living in poverty and a few solutions that have been created.  Ms Garner’s quote is a great summary of the themes that ran through the film and through the articles that we read this week.

The reality of our country is that there is a large group of people living on a financial precipice:  One unexpected car expense, one cold snap where the heat and electrical goes up and they are falling into the pit.   There is little view to getting out of the hole, climbing out via a sandy, crumbling wall.

Throwing money at the problem isn’t the full solution.   Education and skill building are the way to get out and get up.  A controlled study from the state of Pennsylvania, paying for preschool educational programs in at risk communities, there was a 59% reduction in arrests at age 15. The cost of the education is lower and it can break the cycle of poverty.  The cited study suggest a savings of $100MM per year in Pennsylvania.

Even if the intervention is later in the cycle and incarceration or other damage has occurred, skill building and providing alternate housing can reduce recidivism and be less expense.   The roots of recidivism are in poverty, drug abuse, domestic violence and sexual abuse.

Knowing this, I was shocked and frustrated to see that in the Living Wage tables, Community and Social services jobs do not pay a living wage in CT.  How can we expect these workers to have hope for their clients if they are unsure how they will pay for their own future?  Maybe it’s time to look for new solutions because the old ones just aren’t working.

Science without Representation

My government doesn’t represent me.  I am a female scientist and engineer who is working to help business combat the disruptive results of climate change. I help companies engage in practices that can limit the environmental and social damage caused by addiction to fossil fuels.

My lack of representation is exemplified by the senate appointments to the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. The subcommittee appointments of Ted Cruz on Science, Space and Competitiveness and Marco Rubio on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard are especially insulting.  These two committees oversee NASA and NOAA, the agencies that authored of the State of the Climate Report. This confirms that global warming is real, and that the planet had its warmest year on record in 2014.   Both of these politicians chosen are climate deniers who claim to not be scientists but  feel qualified to devalue the opinion of 97% of the scientific community who agree that climate is changing and that human habits are the cause.

Our societal science literacy is suffering. The language used in the climate change denial is an insult to scientists.  The mistrust of science is high.  The ability to critically assess information and challenge data is rare to non-existent. The fact that the U.S. is 20th in science education among the 34 OECD countries doesn’t help citizens to elect people of learning and those who respect the scientific disciplines.  Many people stay away from learning more because, “it’s too hard.”  But this is wrong: the basics of scientific inquiry and engineering problem solving are reachable for anyone and can be taught without complex math or advanced science topics.

It is embarrassing that those who uphold the Founding Fathers as their guiding light in the political path have neglected their education on history.  Thomas Jefferson, the father of the GOP and the concept of minimum government intervention into personal lives was an advocate for education. He made this clear in his A Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge.   

“It is believed that the most effectual means of preventing this [tyranny] would be, to illuminate, as far as practicable, the minds of the people at large, and more especially to give them knowledge of those facts, which history exhibiteth, that, possessed thereby of the experience of other ages and countries, they may be enabled to know ambition under all its shapes, and prompt to exert their natural powers to defeat its purposes.”

He further states that education needs to be for all “without regard to wealth, birth or other accidental condition or circumstance”.

It is important to acknowledge that Jefferson was a product of his time. He was primarily concerned with providing education for those that would participate in government, which was white men.  A commentary by Nichole Blackwood from 2012 at states “Jefferson’s treatment of gender and race also complicates his message.”  However, most of his fellow Founding Fathers, notably John Adams, later Jefferson’s rival, understood that mothers had the care and education of the sons, who, given that they could eventually go into public service needed mothers educated sufficiently to educate them, as well.

Mr. Adams was likely influenced by his wife Abigail, whose correspondence with her husband and friends opens a window into early feminism.  She was a strong advocate of education for women beyond the basics of reading and writing.She and her friends created a virtual book and education club where they shared, via letters, what books and topics they were reading. Their learning expanded into Latin and other classics that were only accessible through their male relatives who were off at school. (Source: Abigail Adams by Woody Holton, Free Press, 2009).  Cokie Roberts covers this topic as well in Founding Mothers (HarperCollins, 2004) and mentions it in her Kahn Academy video series from the Aspen Institue.

If we are to address, seriously and successfully, the food supply, energy, waste and water issues and the social injustice that faces humanity, we need an educated and accurately informed populace.  Only then we elect officials who are educated, informed and can think critically about complex problems.  Our Founding Fathers recognized this need. They would be ashamed of the dismissal of science and education from their hard won political system now advocated by those who claim to be their successors in party and principles.